A private specialist facility in Moto’otua is due to open its doors in the New Year under the patronage of New Zealand-based Aiono Dr. Alec Ekeroma.
The Health Specialist Centre (H.S.C) on Salenesa Rd. is a social enterprise based on a unique model that has been developed by the doctor to provide not only health benefits for the people of Samoa but with room to grow the potential of medical tourism in this country.
Dr. Ekeroma is not a stranger to the medical sector. He has a medical practice in Auckland and has been a visiting specialist to Samoa for 20 years.
The H.S.C will offer premises, which include medical equipment for Samoa’s local health specialists from the fields of gynecology, podiatry, obstetrics etc, interested in leasing/ contracting at the H.S.C.
The unique part is that the health centre will be co-located with ‘Alec’s Home Away’ - a 3-star 15 bedroom (20 bed) motel which will be key to providing sustainability for the social enterprise.
“A stay at ‘Alec’s Home Away’ motel enables and sustains the H.S.C,” said Dr. Ekeroma. “The H.S.C, given the cost of equipment, will not be profitable for at least three years. So the motel provides the funding that will keep the H.S.C. open.
I am hoping that a feasibility study in the future may inform that a private hospital in Samoa is sustainable. In which case, alterations of approximately $200,000 will turn the whole complex into a private hospital.”
When Medcen Hospital folded, Dr. Ekeroma saw a need to develop a health specialist service that was sustainable so he set about creating a different model that would provide Samoans with access to specialist services,
“Affordability is key to access,” he said.
“However, private specialist care is not cheap (the late Medcen is a reminder!).
“But by lowering cost barriers of clinical providers, we may be able to hold down prices which vary up to $350 in Apia for a consultation. I have mentioned to potential providers informally that they will take 70% of the takings but they can charge what they feel their service is worth.
“So I have not mandated prices as in New Zealand noncompetitive behaviour in business is not allowed. By providers charging their own fee, some level of internal competition will be created.
“I do not aim to duplicate specialist services provided in public where accessibility and quality are not issues. I aim to have a physician, pediatrician, surgeon and a gynecologist as a minimum. We do not have a qualified E.N.T surgeon in Samoa but I can negotiate such specialist from New Zealand if there was a demand for that service.”
“I have always loved launching new projects and this is certainly one of my most challenging, managing this on a part-time basis. Hopefully in ten years’ time I can look back and say that this social enterprise has been worth the effort and investment.”
Dr. Ekeroma also expects that the H.S.C will fully utilize the telehealth capabilities, which will be enhanced by the Tui Samoa cable to connect to specialists overseas to assist with diagnosis, management and/or treatment of appropriate cases.
The doctor also mentioned that curative and palliative cancer care in conjunction with overseas specialists is a capability that they will also look at.
“For the most part, the local specialists who apply and are credentialed to work from the H.S.C will be supported by the telehealth capability,” he said.
“That will involve training and equipment - resourcing which will be a fraction of usual setup cost - I will approach development partners to assist although other funding mechanisms will be explored. Such a capability will be of interest not only to our own government but governments and potential clients in the region which will hopefully, be an incubation of a medical tourism initiative.”
For Aiono Dr. Ekeroma, the facility will fulfill a long time dream of his to give back to the country that he grew up in.
While the social enterprise will not see any profits for the first three years as forecasted by the doctor, it is Ekeroma’s objective to leave a lasting legacy in Samoa and the financial cost to him is worth the possibility.
“I am setting it up because I have the business and professional skills to do it,” he said.
“More so, I have been blessed with the financial resources in order to assist others. Instead of purchasing more property in New Zealand I thought that a social enterprise in Samoa, addressing a need and equally supporting a spirit to serve and to give back at a different level, was a better legacy.”
Aiono Dr. Alec Ekeroma grew up in Samoa and attended St. Josephs College before leaving for Papua New Guinea to study medicine.
On his return from P.N.G, he worked in Apia and Sataua for two years in 1984 and 1985 before leaving for New Zealand to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
He retained his affinity with Samoa as a visiting specialist to Samoa for two decades.
He led the group from the universities of Otago and Auckland that created the curriculum of the new medical school at N.U.S three years ago and he continues to support the growth of the medical school.